The biology of natural killer cells during sepsis.


Natural killer (NK) cells are large granular lymphocytes largely recognized for their importance in tumour surveillance and the host response to viral infections. However, as the major innate lymphocyte population, NK cells also coordinate early responses to bacterial infections by amplifying the antimicrobial functions of myeloid cells, especially macrophages, by production of interferon-γ (IFN-γ). Alternatively, excessive NK cell activation and IFN-γ production can amplify the systemic inflammatory response during sepsis resulting in increased physiological dysfunction and organ injury. Our understanding of NK cell biology during bacterial infections and sepsis is mostly derived from studies performed in mice. Human studies have demonstrated a correlation between altered NK cell functions and outcomes during sepsis. However, mechanistic understanding of NK cell function during human sepsis is limited. In this review, we will review the current understanding of NK cell biology during sepsis and discuss the challenges associated with modulating NK cell function during sepsis for therapeutic benefit.